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A Nonprofit Constituent Ecosystem Built For Data, Insight, and Action

August 22, 2014

On September 4th, CDS Global will be sponsoring a webinar presented by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, entitled “Unifying Online and Offline Donor Data for a Consistent Donor Experience.” Michael Wilson will be the lead presenter on the webinar, along with CDS Global CMO Jamey Heinze. The webinar will cover topics centered around consolidating large and varied amounts of data collected from donors, and how to use that data to create positive and consistent interactions with donors. Click here to learn more about the webinar, or register for free.

CDS Global is delighted to have Michael Wilson as a guest blogger today, where he will be discussing one of the main points covered in the webinar: creating a constituent ecosystem built for data, insight, and action as a groundwork for the constituent experience. Stay tuned for more posts from Michael on the nonprofit constituent experience in the coming weeks!

Part 1:  This is an ecosystem built for data, insight and action

Resist the temptation to focus and organize around silos. While silos can maximize a part of the system, they sub-optimize the whole. We are building a constituent (digital) ecosystem. You can read more about building a digital ecosystem, and about the definition of the digital business ecosystem on my blog.

There is something as “not seeing the forest for the trees.” In the case of data (including big data), that can certainly be the case. It is easy to get lost in the data. It is important to see data as a way to gain constituent insight. Having gained insight, we must take action to improve results for our constituents and nonprofit.

The digital executive needs to evaluate whether the department silos are structured properly as a part of the overall ecosystem. One area to look at is what is the overall level of accountability around supporting the total results (including renewal and upgrades) from constituent experiences and relationships. Structural change may be needed to support optimal results.

In scientific terms, an ecosystem is formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment. The ecosystem has multiple, interdependent components that function as a unit. Innovators have long envisioned a similar environment where data, technology, people, and nonprofit processes operate in synchronization to improve constituent satisfaction and nonprofit performance. The key to achieving this vision is having the capacity to discern the true nature of constituent relationships in an intuitive manner. This capacity is known as “constituent insight.”

The concept of the constituent data ecosystem can be further broken down into two key aspects: the Constituent Lifecycle, and the Information Lifecycle.

Below is an example from Forrester Research of how an ecosystem could look:


In the constituent ecosystem, there are several components that are important.

  1. The value of data
    • Constituent interaction data
    • Contact and account data
    • Constituent information files
    • External data
  2. Turning data into insight
  3. Turning insight into action

Integrated constituent data forms the cornerstone of the constituent ecosystem. Nonprofits have rich sources of data including constituent interaction data (both donor and program), account data, external data sources, and constituent information files. This data must be cleaned and properly linked together as fast as the data becomes available.

Individual data elements provide undeniable value in the ecosystem. Integrated data provides even greater value. However, integrating constituent data is far from an easy task. Disparate systems and errors in the data typically prevent all of the data from being used by analytical processes. To turn all of this data into insight, sophisticated technologies and techniques are needed to clean the data, discover hidden relationships, and integrate it. This integrated view must then be fed into analytical models to discover and predict patterns in constituent behavior. This deep insight into a constituent’s services help nonprofits fully understand constituent profitability, attrition, and retention.

Providing insight, however, is only one part of the solution. This insight must be turned into action to achieve real benefits. Two best practices have emerged in a constituent relations focus: dashboards and scorecards.

Dashboards provide a quick way to get an immediate picture of nonprofit processes. Similar to a dashboard in a car, data is displayed in an intuitive manner that allows employees to see how the processes that they are responsible for are working. In the constituent ecosystem, a dashboard contains multiple information displays that show how constituent processes are working.

Scorecards are a vital part of the dashboard display that show specific measurements, also known as key performance indicators (KPIs), for a specific employee role. Unlike financial condition ratios reported to the Board and the IRS, KPIs always reflect strategic value drivers. For example, Return on Investment or functional expenses are common metrics used to judge financial performance, but it doesn’t measure a specific driver of value.

For the constituent ecosystem, a KPI measuring the average value of a new donor reflects a strategic objective of acquiring more profitable donors.

In order to drive the right behaviors in the ecosystem, these mechanisms must be part of the daily job role for constituent-focused employees. That is, insight must be “in sight” of people in day-to-day operational roles. Therefore these capabilities must be quick and easy to use.

In the business world, there is an old saying that “what gets measured gets done.” Dashboards and scorecards also provide a strong way to clearly communicate nonprofit strategy and objectives across the enterprise.

When viewing a report, graph, or KPI, people often need to understand why a specific number is different from what they expect. For insight to be truly “actionable”, a user must be able to drill down into the details. This process is typically called “Root Cause Analysis” because the user must get to the “root” of the problem. For example, if the KPI Average Value of New Constituents is lower than expected, the user needs to be able to look beyond the KPI to the underlying data.

insight ecosystem


Here are the key ideas:

  1. Start with the view of “the forest.”
  2. Begin with simple integrations of valuable data to create insight.
  3. Encourage taking action on insights. Structure everything around actionable outcomes of data and the insights.


Read this post on the Center for Digital Business Transformation blog by clicking here.


As CEO of the Center for Digital Business Transformation, Michael Wilson is dedicated to understanding and applying all things digital. His experience includes over 10 years as CIO and Chief Customer Officer at the American Heart Association. Michael is author of the books “The Digital Nonprofit: A Manifesto” and “The Digital Executive: Are You Obsessed With Your Customers

You can follow Michael on Twitter at @mww1954.

Don’t miss the webinar, featuring Michael Wilson and Jamey Heinze on September 4th: “Unifying Online and Offline Donor Data for a Consistent Donor Experience.”

Register for the webinar here!